James Blake’s first full length was demonstrative of an artist capable of constructing beautiful, delicate melodies; complex, crystalline songs that evoked a general feeling of malaise and melancholy without getting bogged down in specifics. That complexity went hand-in-hand with a tendency for simple – often, overly simple – songwriting: it’s no coincidence that the strongest two tracks from James Blake were covers.
His follow-up, Overgrown, is a confident execution of his still-effective sonic palette, his crisp music creating a feeling of striking clarity; like the first breath of cool country air as one awakens on a camping trip. His songwriting has clearly evolved, seen on standout tracks “To The Last,” “I Am Sold,” his skittery Brian Eno collaboration “Digital Lion,” and the heartbreaking emotional potency of the first single, “Retrograde” (That “and your friends are gone/and your friends won’t come” is goosebump-inspiring). These songs are substantial, emotionally potent.
Some tracks on the album – the cowbell-heavy, repetitive “Voyeur,” the interesting failure that is the RZA-featuring “Take a Fall for Me” – just don’t work, but the remainder are pretty tracks without substance; the songs are sparse, fragmentary, elusive – suggesting an emotional truth without inducing it. They’re undeniably beautiful, but equally – for me, anyway – forgettable.